Eight-year-old Mike had a bright future ahead of him. A well-behaved A-student with a happy family life, he loved Boy Scouts and playing with his dog Rufus. Then tragedy struck. A car accident left his mother with a serious concussion and Mike and his sister injured and traumatized.

The children healed quite quickly, but not so Mike’s mother. For months she suffered post-traumatic stress and depression and withdrew from her family. To cope with the change in his mother, Mike secretly started drinking alcohol that was kept in the kitchen cabinet and helped himself to his mother’s painkillers. His grades dropped, he cut class and began hanging out with older children who were into drugs. At home he erupted erratically with angry outbursts and told white lies to his family. “We missed these warning signs,” said his father. “We chalked it up to typical childhood rebellion, never imagining Mike was drinking and using drugs. Not our kid.”

”HIGH RISK BEHAVIOR”

Substance abuse (which, as used in this article, includes underage use of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs, along with non-medical use of prescription-type drugs, or inhalants) is a chronic problem nationwide that affects all ages. It ruins lives, destroys families, and taxes law enforcement and the courts. According to the FBI’s Crime in the United States 2002 publication 18,328 juveniles under 15 years of age were arrested for drug abuse violations in 2002.

”DISTRESSING STATISTICS”

Nationally, in 2002, about 22.0 million Americans were classified with substance dependence or abuse (9.4 percent of the total population aged 12 or older) according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Results from the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings.

In the State of Hawaii, in 2002, approximately 11,319 students were determined to have an alcohol and/or drug abuse problem and needed treatment, as reported in a 2002 Student Use Survey released by the Hawaii Department of Health. Of the nearly 28,000 students from 181 public and 34 private schools surveyed, at least 1 out of 10 students in grades 6 through 12 was estimated to need substance abuse treatment.

”SKILLS FOR SUCCESS”

These statistics are unconscionable. “Where did we go wrong?” asked one parent after learning that her child was using drugs. Another mother exploded upon being notified that her son was caught smoking at school. “Josh, I wash my hands of you! What’s the matter with today’s kids?” she yelled.

Is Josh really the culprit? Caregivers are entrusted to teach children to feel good about themselves and to make good choices. How tragic it is that many turn to destructive behaviors such as substance abuse.

”WHY DRUGS?”

Three factors can trigger a child

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